Hardware development is a hard road to walk on

I start the post stating we (as company) have many years of designing software for embedded systems. Some of the readers might have heard about eCos or Micrium real-time systems. We worked with those platforms back in the days when they barely started. It takes a lot of effort and specialized knowledge to design hardware and software and create a new product. Many more hours than just software products. Some of the black-boxes have patents incorporated (in hardware or software) and the companies are looking to recoup some of the costs through lock-in period for buyers (long-time contracts). It is a hard business and we have seen our share of failed projects or unmet specifications. Experience is the hard core currency which newcomers might think they can skimp on it…

Clients are locked in for years by contracts and are the real testers

The main problem with this approach, from a buyer’s perspective, is the inflexibility of the product and the problems which can take years to appear and to be fixed. Yes, there are workarounds and compromised solutions but when you are locked in a long contract and technology evolves very fast, at the end of the contract you might feel like a guinea pig in the technology sector. Designing hardware and then realizing the failures are with thousands in the field is bringing chills to any CXOs.

The implications can evolve in:

  • financial penalties
  • marked reputation
  • customers running out in droves
  • in the end the close of the company

No standard in vehicle software protocols

Another problem in black-boxes for fleet management is the fact there is no standard. There is no quality of service and each company is tempted by the low barrier entries. There are many front-end companies which just re-sell hardware from third-party company. They don’t add any value but know how to sell and use the interface for specified products: they run a show in “technology” but are totally opaque to the underlying product (we call them shell-companies).

The advantage of selling a black-box solution is the total control (as you might know it) of the product (think about Apple vs. Android). The customer is sold on your advantageous solution and involved patents (creating the illusion nobody can do what are you doing). The price is high, problems might arise but you as buyer think you have the best.

Short life for hardware products leads to high costs for users

As in any technology, the” best of” has short life. We reached the conclusion that black-boxes can be replaced currently (after 2015) with mobile solutions (phones/tablets and dedicated software).

Here are some of our thoughts of why is it better for us and our clients to use mobile solutions:

  • ubiquity: phones and tablets are extremely cheap, for reasons debated in a different post
  • if one hardware platform has problems, others are filling in with gusto (see Blackberry tribulations)
  • software is much easier to be  tested and changed than hardware
  • OTA (over-the-air) programming is the fixer for any BUG not found before release
  • continuous  maturation of the software beats any new hardware release
  • adding features is cheap and fast
  • customization is the differentiation game between X and Y company
  • the buyer is not locked in long contracts, if the software is not working, the loss is minimal and another software version will be installed in seconds
  • the buyer has the power to drive development or feature requests
  • because there is no contract, the software companies are not dormant, they strive to have good, robust products